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Wahonos appeal for help in Indonesia

Thousands homeless in quake-ravaged area



Thousands of children are homeless and hungry following a large earthquake in Indonesia last weekend said Jay Wahono, who, with wife Julie, owns and operates the Taman Sari Royal Heritage Spa in Whistler.

That’s why the Wahonos, who came to Whistler from Indonesia several years ago, are raising donations for the earthquake victims and funneling them through UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency.

"It is estimated that 15,000 children under the age of five have been affected by this," said Wahono, a father himself.

Fortunately none of Wahono’s family were killed or injured but the 6.3 quake, which happened on Saturday, has closed the family’s spa in the Sheraton Mustika Hotel in Yogyakarta.

It is particularly devastating, said Wahono, because that spa was the first one opened in 1997. It was specifically located in Yogyakarta because it is an ancient city and the cradle of the type of healing the spa services are based on.

"It is likely to take about six months for the hotel and spa to be renovated," said Wahono. All the staff and guests of the hotel have been evacuated.

Yogyakarta is a city and province on the island of Java in Indonesia. It is the only province in Indonesia that is still formally governed by a pre-colonial Sultanate , the Sultanate of Ngayogyakarta Hadiningrat. The city is known as a centre of classical Javanese fine art and culture such as batik , ballet, drama, music, poetry and puppet shows. It is also famous as a centre for Indonesian higher education.

It is estimated that 6,000 people were killed as a result of the quake and up to 100,000 may be homeless.

Julie Wahono’s mother, Mooryati Soedibyo, the founder of the spas and vice-chairman of the Indonesian Parliamentary body, toured the affected area earlier this week and has already donated 500 tents herself, said Wahono.

"People don’t want to go inside their homes anymore because they are afraid of the next earthquake," said Wahono.

"People living outside need tents and it is also the rainy season so a lot of people are really facing very hard conditions. The hospitals are also choked with victims and people are not getting help right away."

The victims are also living under the threat of an imminent eruption of Mount Merapi, which is about 20 kilometres away from Yogyakarta.

"Tourism in general in that area will be very hard hit," said Wahono. "And the eruption of Mt. Merapi… is giving everyone jitters around that area.

"… I don’t think it is going to recover soon because of this situation and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It is nature."

Earlier this week the volcano was spitting out lava and hot clouds of gas, sending debris avalanching about 4 kilometres down the mountain. Since Saturday’s quake the volcano has spewed hot clouds out about 150 times a day – that’s three times the activity than before the quake.

Mount Merapi, which means Fire Mountain, has erupted scores of times in the last 200 years often with deadly results. The 3,000-metre volcano has now been rumbling for weeks and early in May locals were ordered to evacuate.

Wahono is also appealing to national and international spa organizations to get involved in raising funds to help the victims.

The Indonesian government is estimating that about 23,000 homes were severely affected with another 14,000 partially affected.

To date Canada has pledged $2 million for relief efforts, of which $500,000 will go to the International Red Cross.

Some 22 countries have contributed or pledged assistance so far, according to the UN Office of the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva.

A history of devastation

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago, is prone to earthquakes because it sits along the Pacific’s so-called Ring of Fire of active volcanoes and faults. It has 76 volcanoes, the largest number of any country.

In 2004 a 9.1 earthquake struck near the Island of Sumatra producing a tsunami that left more than 230,000 people dead or missing in countries around the Indian Ocean, most of them in Indonesia. An 8.6 quake last March in the same region left 1,300 people dead.

At the time of the tsunami the Resort Municipality of Whistler pledged to help Indonesia’s Nias Island, which was devastated by the Dec. 26 event. It was estimated that it would need $468 million in reconstruction and Whistler was planning to help.

That help was to be delivered through a program developed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Canadian International Development Agency.

However, said RMOW spokeswoman Diana Waltmann, the FCM program has not worked out and the municipality is still looking for a way forward on the issue.

"There is a desire to fulfill our commitment and to assist and in Whistler 2020 there is a desire to help emerging resort communities in developing countries, so I think it is there I just don’t think we have got our minds around how to go forward with it and when," she said.

Most likely Whistler will provide help and guidance in development policies and procedures for effective governance. Nias Island, a surfer’s paradise in Indonesia, was chosen as a Whistler partner half way around the world with the help of Wahono. It also sustained damage in the March 2005 earthquake.

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